Asked on this morning’s Today programme about Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s incendiary criticism of the Tories’ last eight years Michael Howard politely said that he always wanted the Conservative Party to have a vigorous debate about its future [click here for discussion of Mr Howard’s British dream article of today]. Michael Ancram, who has been Chairman or Deputy Leader for three-quarters of the last eight years, is willing to be openly critical of Sir Malcolm’s remarks, however. In an article for today’s Independent Michael Ancram suggests that “the rather regrettable Tory blame-games of the last few days” are turning people off politics. Sir Malcolm was, perhaps, not the only person in Michael Ancram’s sights. Francis Maude also criticised the Tory brand in a Monday interview.
The main purpose of Mr Ancram’s article is to complain about the growing gap between the political class and the people. He cites passionate opposition to the Iraq war and to the ban on the hunting, plus mass activism in favour of greater development expenditure, as proof that people still care about small ‘p’ politics. The problem, he thinks, is with a political class that talks to itself and ignores Britain’s real problems. Mr Ancram, one of The Telegraph Ten, thinks that the Conservative parliamentary party’s attempt to grab monopoly control of the leadership election is only going to widen this gap. It is notable that the two ‘blame-gamers’ – Maude and Rifkind – support the rollback of democracy. Michael Ancram writes:
"If the Conservative Party in the 21st century is to show that we actually stand for real principles which are rooted in the natural instincts of the British people, we first must show that we are no longer a part of that political class. We need to show that we are talking to people leading real lives in the real world and not just to ourselves. We need to show that we trust people more than we trust political systems. We failed to do so at the last election, just as we had failed to do so in 1997 and 2001. We must do so now. Regrettably that cause is not advanced by a party which, when it should be broadening its appeal and its franchise to attract a wider potential membership, seeks to disenfranchise its members, leaving core party decisions to its MPs regardless of the fact that in opposition they are hardly geographically or socially representative of the country as a whole. That is not breaking out of the political class; it is reinforcing it."
Towards the end of the article Mr Ancram also rejects the idea that a more consensual approach to government will restore the public’s faith in politics. He says that European forms of coalition government and “cohabitation” are “increasingly seen by the public as synonymous with the sort of cosy self-serving political freemasonry they suspect and instinctively mistrust.” The Conservative Party must not diminish political choice, he warns, but instead offer a vision of a low tax, freer, less nannying and more neighbourly Britain.